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Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program Receives 'Institute' Designation, Sees Significant Increase in Funding

The Lake Champlain Sea Grant program has a new designation – and a bigger budget for its work.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Sea Grant College Program have granted the program institute status. With the new designation comes a 150 percent increase in its base budget – from $400,000 to $1 million annually – in federal support for research, outreach and education to improve the environment and economy in the Lake Champlain Basin. 

Designation as a Sea Grant Institute is the second-highest level of recognition within the four-tiered National Sea Grant College Program and is a significant achievement. The Lake Champlain Sea Grant program was established as a project by NOAA in 1999. In 2012 its status was raised to that of coherent area program.

The institute designation also gives the program increased national recognition and an enhanced ability to work with key partners throughout the region.

The Lake Champlain Sea Grant program develops and shares science-based knowledge to benefit the environment and economies of the Lake Champlain basin. The program is a cooperative effort of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont and the Lake Champlain Research Institute at the State University of New York College at Plattsburgh. It operates through partnerships with UVM Extension, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation and numerous other local organizations.

Research supported by Lake Champlain Sea Grant at SUNY Plattsburgh includes ground-breaking assessments of microplastics in Lake Champlain and installation of a long-term monitoring buoy to track lake temperatures over time.

Recent Sea Grant-supported research at the University of Vermont on green infrastructure informed the state’s newly updated stormwater guidance.

Excellence Across a Range of Fronts

Lake Champlain Sea Grant earned the institute designation for demonstrating excellence in research, education and public service dedicated to the environmentally responsible management and development in the nation’s marine, coastal and Great Lakes resources.

“Lake Champlain Sea Grant has clearly shown a high level of achievement and can now increase its contributions to the mission of the National Sea Grant College Program to enhance the practical use and conservation of Lake Champlain resources,” said Craig McLean, assistant administrator of NOAA Research.

“I am pleased Lake Champlain Sea Grant has reached this important milestone and have full confidence that the elevation to institutional status will bring positive impacts to the communities served by Lake Champlain Sea Grant well beyond the federal investment in the program,” said Jonathan Pennock, director of the National Sea Grant College Program.

The Lake Champlain program joins 31 other Sea Grant Institutes as part of a National Sea Grant College Program network.

Basin-Wide Effort

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) enacted the 1998 Sea Grant Reauthorization Act, which provided the opportunity to create a Lake Champlain Sea Grant outreach project, and was instrumental in creating the opportunity to fund the new institute. The original proposal stressed that the focus was to be a coordinated, basin-wide effort and not one focused exclusively on New York or Vermont. Lake Champlain Sea Grant remains true to this goal today, with programming focused on environmental literacy and workforce development, healthy coastal ecosystems, and resilient communities and economies.

“This is another great day for our Lake, and I’m so proud that we now have a fully-fledged Lake Champlain Sea Grant Institute,” Leahy said. “This further advances our goals for harnessing the superb resources of the Sea Grant Program to protect Lake Champlain as one of Vermont’s most vital and vibrant resources. This designation is well earned through the great research funded by the program over the years.  As vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I will work to see that the program is fully funded as an Institute.”

“I congratulate our friends at the Lake Champlain Sea Grant program on this important designation,” said U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). “This designation will mean increased support as we combat invasive species and protect our waters. As the co-chair of the Bipartisan Invasive Species Caucus and an outspoken advocate for Lake Champlain in Congress, I will continue to work to ensure Lake Champlain is protected and preserved for future generations.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a member of the Senate Environmental Committee, said, “The Lake is one of Vermont’s most precious natural resources, and the Lake Champlain Sea Grant program’s research, education and community outreach is helping ensure it can be enjoyed by generations to come. I’m very pleased this new designation will help further that important work.”

“Lake Champlain is the environmental crown jewel of our region,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “It is central to our cultural heritage and natural history, and an invaluable recreational and economic resource. This well-deserved recognition of the Lake Champlain Sea Grant as a Sea Grant Institute will ensure that this important program can continue its vital work in the Lake Champlain basin to protect and preserve this great lake for generations to come” Welch said.

Supports Variety of Initiatives

According to Breck Bowden, director of Lake Champlain Sea Grant, “The additional resources made available as a Sea Grant Institute will allow us to expand our outreach activities and fund new research that directly supports the mission of the Lake Champlain Sea Grant.”

The new funding will be used in a number of ways, Bowden said.

It will enable Lake Champlain Sea Grant to expand its flagship outreach program, the Watershed Alliance, to New York state schools. The program has educated more than 9,000 Vermont students in the past five years alone about the impacts of land use on water quality and actions individuals can take to improve water quality. The program is a partnership with UVM Extension.

The new funding will also be used support new research; generate two to three new long-term partnerships; create a new fellowship program for graduate and post-doctoral students; provide more opportunities and support for staff to work with regional and national partners; and enhance the already strong partnership between the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, the UVM Extension program and SUNY Plattsburgh’s Lake Champlain Research Institute.

Lake Champlain Sea Grant also partners with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to support the Green Infrastructure Collaborative. This program provides technical assistance to municipalities, businesses, and individuals to promote use of natural landscapes and green designs to treat and manage stormwater runoff.

About the National Sea Grant Program

The National Sea Grant College program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1966 and works to create and maintain a healthy coastal environment and economy. The Sea Grant network consists of a federal/university partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and 33 university-based programs in every coastal and Great Lakes state, Puerto Rico and Guam. The network draws on the expertise of more than 3,000 scientists, engineers, public outreach experts, educators and students to help citizens better understand, conserve and utilize America's coastal resources. 

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